Obese rats with severe hypercholesterolemia - high blood cholesterol - reacted positively to dietary supplementation with plant sterols and minerals, according to research from Finland.
Researchers from the Institute of Biomedicine and Pharmacology at the University of Helsinki and the Department of Pathology, University of Helsinki Maria Hospital induced severe hypercholesterolemia in obese rats by feeding them with a diet high in fat, cholesterol and salt.
The diet was designed to induce atherosclerosis - the thickening and hardening of the arteries with deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol or other products. If left untreated, it can lead to heart attacks or strokes.
After their high fat diet, the rats showed a 10-fold increase in serum low-density lipoprotein (LDL or 'bad' cholesterol), as well as endothelial dysfunction, hypertension and vascular and renal damage.
However, after the diet was supplemented with plant sterols, and the salt partially replaced by calcium, magnesium and potassium, total and LDL cholesterol levels were lowered, as was the mean blood pressure. The supplementation also helped improve the function of the endothelium, the tissue located between the blood and the vessel wall which aids blood flow.
Plant sterols and the minerals also protected against vascular and renal damage and extended the lifespan of the rats, according to the research.